Author: Nicolas Balacheff

This is an archive of the 2013 version of ocTEL.

#ocTEL MOOC (week 4 A42) Why would the student do or say this rather than that?

The second activity of this week on “Producing Engaging and Effective Learning Materials” is about the evaluation of resources in our area. So, it means, in my case, evaluating a resource for the learning of mathematics. However, I will start from a more general perspective. Whatever is the targeted learning, the first thing to check is the validity of the content the resource claims providing the learners with respect to the referent discipline. Then only, I will assess it from a learning perspective. Indeed, there are many issues to consider from accessibility to usability, motivation and autonomy. But, three questions have a hight priority in driving my evaluation:

Why would the student do or say this rather than that?
What must happen if she does it or doesn’t do it?
What meaning would the answer have if she had been given it?

I borrow these formulations from the Theory of Didactical Situations (Brousseau 1997 p.65), but the questions are very pragmatic. The theory works here as a driver of our thinking; it is a tool to anticipate what could be the learning outcome, its likeliness, the possible limits and hence the needed intervention of a teacher. Depending on the responses, one may have to stage the use of the resource in one way or another.

Interaction and feedback are the main objects of the evaluation. The issue is not that students will do that or this, but why they do it,  because the constructed piece of knowledge must appear as the best adapted to the situation. Knowledge is something you reconstruct for yourself and appropriate because of its use value. The next issue is to verify, if the resource is interactive in some way, that it can feedback students so that they have a chance to realize that something went wrong and then react to that. If the resource is not interactive, then the issue is whether it is possible to figure out any thing about the activity (possibly, just reading) of students and find the appropriate support to bring. Eventually, the stake of this inquiry is the meaning possibly constructed by the student.

All this means that there is enough documentation about the resource, otherwise one has to guess or invent… just having a resource without information about its design, the intention of the designer and indications about its use, it is hardly possible to make a proper evaluation. This may be the reason why I couldn’t do it for the proposed resource. But, anyway, I will make the exercise when achieving the third task of the week.

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#ocTEL MOOC (week 4 A41) Can TEL be taught or only learned?

The theme of the week is “Producing Engaging and Effective Learning Materials“, with as a first task comparing learning resources, with three examples. As one can easily realise, since the content is completely different in each case, the comparison will be at the level of the style, organisation, choice of media and ways of involving learners. But let’s see what is proposed…

The first suggestion is to use one resource from Khan Academy’s YouTube videos. So, I chosen the “Introduction to Vectors and Scalars“:

Actually, a surprise! This introduction aims at clarifying the distinction between “vector” and “scalar”. If I have understood well: a scalar is a quantity (for example, a distance of 5m between two points) and the vector is a scalar associated to a displacement (for example, moving 5m to the right). It could be a bit more complex, introducing change of time, suggests the teacher. Then, he introduces a distinction between velocity (vector quantity, the move has a direction) and speed (scalar quantity, the direction is not specified). I am unsure of what will be the conceptions of vector and scalar that learners could develop after this lesson (e.g. what about scalars operating on vectors). So, the benefit from this staging of vectors can be discussed, but I recognise the power of the enchantment of the blackboard: the speed of the discourse regulated by that of the hand, the hesitations and small mistakes which gives the flavour of informal discourse, the always positive style: it might sound like very complicated ideas, but we will see in the course of the video that they are actually very simple ideas… (quasi verbatim). There is a kind of illusion of being close to the tutor, feeling that he is speaking to you. Well done! But still unsure about what could be the learning outcome…

So, now let’s move to the second example, taking one example from one resource from ElearningExamples e-learning games. Among the great many possibilities, I chosen the “Learning center for young astronomers“. This center gives access to several resources either texts or video, possibilities to navigate among resources. Some questions give opportunity for engaging in kind of interactions. The resource includes suggestions for use in the classroom. This is a classical environment for getting information along a not too boring journey in an encyclopaedia. It is not motivating by itself, but if learners have some motivation they may enjoy. I had a look on other resources of this set of examples, they are essentially game-like. The most difficult was to understand how learning is addressed. Games? yes, but learning… not obvious.

Eventually, I visited the iEthiCS simulation as suggested. The thing to emphasize is the clarity and the simplicity of the environment, and still an engaging style. Indeed, it is for adults and moreover medical students usually with a quite hight motivation towards case-based learning. After watching he video of the case, the student can make choices and get video commentaries (there is a text-based version). This is rather lively and efficient. The feeling of a contact with the tutor, although with little interaction (just decision choices), is realistic and convincing. This is a good video-based teaching.

So, now back to the task: “comparing resources”. To be frank, global comparisons is likely to be meaningless. But it is possible to make some on aspects shared by these resources. For example comparing the use of video by Khan Academy and iEthics, or the way learner’s navigation is framed by the Center for young astronomers and iEthics. All seems adapted to a certain conception of learners and of their autonomy, and they look quite well with their own style (that one may indeed always discuss). But an other question is whether they would succeed in “passing” the content they intend to give learners an access to. A question that #ocTEL does not ask, but the question which in the end is the most important. Khan academy treats knowledge as information so everything will depend on the listener, the Center for young astronomer does that too but in a more active way. Only iEthiCs treats knowledge as a tool for problem solving and not as information only, this is this which drives the design of the environment and it is, in my opinion, the key challenge of the design of TEL environments.

Eventually, the task includes a question about the extent to which these resources “differ from that of the resources we’re using in ocTEL?” There are two remarkable differences: these resources are rather focussed, while ocTEL is totally and vastly open (real risk to get lost), these resources target delivering some knowledge in some form, while ocTEL organizes exchanges of ideas and opinions about something which may be or not supported by some knowledge about TEL.I have not the feeling of following a course, but of being on a market place with a lot of possibilities. But it is hardly possible to identify what I am learning, and if there is something to learn beyond getting all these information.

Actually, we are touching there the main difficulty, challenge and weakness of TEL. So, my question: can TEL be taught or only learned?

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#ocTEL MOOC (week 3 Webinar) Did the 3E framework inspire the design of the ocTEL MOOC? I wonder…

This week 3 webinar on “Activity design for online learning” was presented by Keith Smyth based on the 3E framework that he used in support to the improvement of the adoption of TEL at Edinburgh Napier University. Surprisingly the link with the three activities proposed by #ocTEL for this week 3 is not obvious and may be empty but at a very general level — that is the level of the word “activity”. It is not to mean that the webinar was not interesting, but one may expect more coherence between the activities in a MOOC.

The 3E framework is “based on a tried and tested Enhance-Extend-Empower continuum for using technology to effectively support learning, teaching and assessment across disciplines and levels of study”, explain the authors. Here is a view of the continuum:

Adopting technology in simple and effective ways to actively support students and increase their activity and self-responsibility
Further use of technology that facilitates key aspects of students’ individual and collaborative learning and assessment through increasing their choice and control
Developed use of technology that promotes learner autonomy and requires higher order individual and collaborative learning that reflect how knowledge is created and used in professional environments

In a way, I see that as a meta-model to frame the type of use of the technology one may want to adopt. This continuum seems especially relevant for adult education with the last stage coming closer to professional situations. Then within each of these levels we are left with nothing very tangible and operational to develop the design. We were left with 3 to 4 minutes to fill in the table with one example… a real challenge.

There is a lesson to be learned anyway, which is that whatever is the design a the level of actual student activity, there must be also attention paid to the higher level of design which is that of the course management as a series of activities and their evolution. In this respect the webinar was interesting and relevant. But, thinking about and learning learning theories was probably not the most relevant to prepare to it, something closer to curriculum development and/or course management would have been welcome.

Eventually… did the 3E framework inspire the design of #ocTEL? I wonder…

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#ocTEL MOOC (week 3 A33) Learning forward, designing backward

The third activity for this week 3 on Designing active learning is to design an activity and to review a learning activity. I didn’t design one specifically for this MOOC, but I am happy to share one which I designed for a Doctoral school a few years ago, it was about the design of learning game, starting by inviting students to play a game…

The idea is simple: invite students to play a game first alone against the teacher who manages to sometimes loose, sometime win. This the time to acquire the rules. Then the students play against each other, first alone, then in team with a spokesperson who will play the strategy of the team. There are two levels of debriefing, the first one specific to the game as such, the second to understand the structure and the function of the game as a learning situation. Eventually, students are invited to analyse a simulation game in epidemiology. The sequence closes with a more theoretical analysis of the role of games in learning.

The lesson learned from this exercise is that while learning goes forward from action to articulated knowledge, the design of a learning situation must go backward from the targeted learning outcome back to the optimal situation to engage learner in the process. This situation could be a game but not necessarily, it must essentially be a situation which allows learners to mobilise what they know, whatever it is, in order to make the first step towards the target. The sequence of situation is a journey allowing the construction of the required mental constructs, then language, then means to evaluate and ground the piece of knowledge which has emerged.  This is a quick summary, but the essential is there.

It is with this in mind that I reviewed two activities proposed by (@James Kerr), History of Educational Technology-A Collaborative Timeline Project, and (@ElizabethECharl), Webquest – a hunting we will go. In both cases, the difficulty is to figure out precisely what will be the learning outcome and how the situations are appropriate for this objective. Kerr activity is interesting as such, it could stimulated conversations on the history of educational technology and beyond on the role of technology in education. It is an open situation which could give ground at several different learning objective. Elizabeth activity is more focussed on information search on the net. It is a starter, and actually presented as such, which fruitfulness will depend on the follow up either by new situations or by the teacher — here a librarian. As a learner, I am now in standby in both cases…

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#ocTEL MOOC (week 3 A32) While playing, one cant' help learning

The focus on this week second task is on game-based learning as the best example of good case of active learning. The reasons given are brief and clear: “It encapsulates many principles of active learning, such as engagement in an authentic context, learning by mistake-making and reflection, experiential learning, collaborative learning and learning by problem-solving”. Apart from the word “authentic” that I would discuss, I agree with the list. But is it enough? In my opinion: “no”, because the issue is not that some learning occurs but to be able to tell what learning occurs and, even better, that an intended learning objective has been reached. For this, it is not enough to engage the learners in an active play.

Let’s take the case of the proposed games, of which I tried two: the adventure game Lost in the City and the strategy game Westward.  After 15 minutes of play (recommended), I stopped, I stepped back and I tried to respond to the question: “What do you think you could learn playing this game?” The only response I could offer is that we could learn how to play these games and that it may take some time. Then what we could learn once being reasonably familiar with the game is not obvious, although there could be a general statements (I prefer to leave the floor to a knowledgeable other): “The game “Lost in the City” is interesting as an exercise in following directions and solving puzzle” (@James Kerr), “Westward […]  felt as though it wrapped entertainment around learning very well, and could present learning in an engaging way” (@James Kerr). Yes, but which learning? James Kerr refers to “The Oregon trail” as a similar game. If I got it well, it is both a role-play and a simulation game of a period in the history of the US (as a matter of fact, following a link from the wikipedia page of “The Oregon trail” one reaches “Westward!” and learn that it is an online adaptation of it  – but may be not to confuse with Westward – without an exclamation point).

So, before being lost (or loosing my reader, if one happens to reach this line), I must tell what I learned today from activity 3.2. The first thing is that I learned a bit how to play these games which I didn’t know before; and indeed, while playing, I cant’ help learning. The second thing is that one cannot say clearly and precisely what can be learned when playing a game; almost every learning is possible from learning how to play, learning some attitude, some skills and serendipitously some content or know-how which could have a meaning and a utility outside the universe of the game. The analysis is almost impossible.

Hence, the reasonable approach is to question the game from the perspective of the learning outcome one targets. I will come back to this point with the week 3 activity 3.3.

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#ocTEL MOOC (week 3 A31) Isn't learning always active?

“Designing active learning” is the theme of the week. This title surprises me since indeed learning is always active. Whatever they are, leaning requires activities, actions and decisions on the side of the learner. Indeed, these are not of the same na…

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#ocTEL MOOC (week 2 Webinar) Eventually, it's wise to distinguish the driver from the traveller!

This week, for the first time since the beginning of this course, I can attend the webinar. The connexion is easy and the environment is rather well designed. We have a sense of the audience (about 50 people), the moderators are active, the chat is liv…

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#ocTEL MOOC (week 2 A22) Some thoughts about adult learning

Adult learning is one of the issues addressed by the theme of #ocTEL week 2. I have read some of the material which emphasizes principles for a successful organisation of teaching to adults. Not surprisingly, we find as a major difference with children…

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#ocTEL MOOC (week 2 A21) Prerequisites for attending a MOOC

The topic of the week is “Understanding learners needs”, which in my opinion is better expressed by understanding the prerequisites for enrolling potentially successfully in a (Massive Open) On-line Course. Four questionnaires are suggested to get a fi…

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#ocTEL MOOC (week 1 Webinar) It's all the complexity of adopting TEL

The theme of  #ocTEL week 1 is “TEL Concepts and Approaches“. The preparation includes many activities with the idea (paraphrasing the presentation of the week) that it may be a chance to ‘ground’ ourselves within the learning landscape by exploring examples of theories and approaches, or to have an opportunity to talk about specific theories, the approaches they take and the outcomes they achieve. I did two of these activities and published the outcomes in preceding posts (here and there). Then, I looked at the slides of the related webinar and the exchanges in the chat window.

The topic of the webinar of this week is “Teachers Talking about TEL“, presented by Liz Masterman. I missed it, but I read the powerpoint and the comments from the chat window (sorry Liz, I couldn’t find time to sit and follow the talk  — the recording is here). If I got it well, it opens questions dealing essentially with acceptability of TEL and the difficulty of its adoption in higher education covering questions about students needs and preferences, the role of learning and teaching theories, the reuse of digital resources (OER), the transformation of practice… This is so rich that it is difficult to step back from the brainstorm and to think about what we get from such a course: all doors are open and are left open in the end: the conclusion takes the form of five questions. So, let’s take them as a homework:

1. Is there a tension what students want and what might be more beneficial to their learning?

Yes, this is often the case and this a very general situation. Just considering the content, in compulsory education or higher education, we know that students interested in a certain topic would very much like to avoid others they don’t like. For example, in medicine it is classical that students are eager to enter the ward, but not to take the biochemistry or statistic courses. An other example could be the willing to learn English but avoiding learning all the technicalities of the grammar. As a matter of fact, too many students have a project but do not understand the curriculum. There issue is that you really understand the curriculum once you know…

2. ‘Good use of technology builds on all the education theory.’ Do you agree?

To respond “Yes” is difficult to avoid, but it is actually meaningless. Good use of technology builds on much more than educational theories, there are also the communication theories, ergonomic, computational literacy. Moreover, if the idea is to say that all the learning and teaching theories, and educational as well, can be of some help, one may agree but so what… The issue may be, when facing a problem, to find how to formulate it and understand it, and then to find the means to get the most relevant response. But, if this response is informed by a theory, would that mean that we have to know it (functionally, and not only by name)? This may be a real challenge. Eventually, would agreeing means that we consider that such good use builds on behaviourism as well as on constructivism, cognitivism as well as situated learning. Unfortunately not all the learning theories are consistent among themselves. So, definitely, we have to reconsider the question.

3. What are the trade-offs and compromises in using (open) educational resources created by others?

This is a very difficult question which may not have a definite and general answer. An educational resource is in general the product of a process which is largely part of its meaning. The big issue is to know how to document a resource so that it can be reused. This issue might be easier to manage in higher education, but still there is a significant difference between an educational document on the “Little Fermat theorem” and one on “A dream within a dream”, a poem of Edgar Allan Poe. When these resources were dominated by books, teachers tended to choose text-books close to what they had learned (or had been taught) and the way they had learned, and to appropriate them for a long period. With the current blooming of on-line resources, it is rather difficult because very little is known of them. TEL has developed the concept of Learning object and the related meta-data, but still this is much less operational than expected.

Aside the difficulty of appropriating the resources prepared by others, there is the need for teacher to remain the creators of their courses. It is through this creative process that they can solve the actor paradox: each time a course is delivered, or an educational resource used, it must be as it were the first time with the same enthusiasm and liveliness so that the student can enter the knowledge game and not be offered the mere repetition of a course which is delivered every years alike.

4. Where is the locus of ‘cool TEL’ in your university/college and what is its relationship to institutional support?

No genius loci yet for TEL in Grenoble (but its in the agenda). However there is a place where TEL develops in a blended approach for many years now, it is the first year of medicine at Grenoble University. The model is that of a flip classroom, with all the material delivered on DVD and then a questions-answers session with tutors, and eventually an evaluation simulating the future exam. It is very similar to a MOOC (at least 1500 students attend) but before the MOOC (it is not Online yet). It is interesting, in relation with the webinar discussion to notice the motivation of this innovation: equity between students. An other interesting innovation, of a different nature, is offered to students of the second year of this medicine school. It is called Laboratorium of epidemiology and it consists of a simulation with the objective to set a context to motivate students to learn statistics in a situated way.

5. What information will best help you decide whether to try out

That information which I will get in the ocTEL MOOC, indeed! Actually, I am already fully convinced.

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